Drugs to make you drowsy: Benzodiazepines for sleep
It’s the middle of the night, and once again, you’re wide awake.
You know you have to get up and get to work in a few hours, but something is stopping you from drifting off into a peaceful slumber. Maybe you had too many naps through the day or way too much coffee on your lunch break. Perhaps you have issues with anxiety that are playing on your mind.
Whatever the cause of your sleep issues, it’s tempting to turn to medication for help.
Sleeping pills promise a quick solution to insomnia — which is all that you want when you’ve had a few nights without enough sleep. However, taking the wrong pills could be dangerous for you and your health in the long-term.
Solutions like benzodiazepines for sleep can have their benefits. However, like all treatments, there are pros and cons to using these kinds of pills. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that you understand what you’re taking before you begin using drugs to make you drowsy.
The basics on benzodiazepines and sleep
If you’ve struggled with sleep for a while now, then you might have already asked the question: “what is the best over the counter sleep medication?” and had trouble to find something that really helps. There’s also a chance that herbal remedies and natural substances simply haven’t worked for you.
When natural strategies and counting sheep doesn’t work, your doctor may turn to benzodiazepines for sleep instead. These drugs are one of the most traditional treatments available from insomnia.
They work by binding to the receptors of a specific chemical messenger in your body called GABA. Neurotransmitters travel between the nerve cells in your brain, promoting sleep. At the same time, benzodiazepines can assist with things like anxiety and muscle relaxation.
While short-term use of benzodiazepines is generally safe, these medications can be quite dangerous in the long term.
There are numerous reasons.
Benzodiazepines have a higher risk of dependence than some other sleep treatments. This means that you’re more likely to become addicted to the drug.
Additionally, for people at risk of sleep apnea, benzodiazepine’s muscle relaxant qualities can be very dangerous. A combination of sleep apnea and benzodiazepines is not recommended.
A quick list of benzodiazepines for sleep
If you’re dealing with a short-term sleep problem, perhaps caused by a change in your shift work or a problem with your routine, your doctor may recommend a short course of benzodiazepines.
Usually, these pills will be given at the same time as a sleep study, to look into the underlying causes of your sleep disturbances.
Depending on your background and specific treatment needs, you may be given medication from the following list of benzodiazepines for sleep:
Xanax or Alprazolam: Commonly used for the treatment of anxiety disorders, Xanax can also assist with sleep problems and insomnia.
Clorazepate: A hypnotic sedative drug used for the treatment of severe anxiety and sleep disorders.
Valium and Diazepam: A benzodiazepine intended for the treatment of panic attacks, seizures, alcohol withdrawal, restless leg syndrome, and other issues.
Eztazolam: An anxiety-reducing drug that can also help with short-term insomnia treatment.
Temazepam: Approved for the short-term treatment of insomnia.
Oxazepam: Frequently recommended for controlling the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Also affective for anxiety and insomnia.
Side effects of benzodiazepines for sleep
As mentioned above, short term use of benzodiazepines is generally considered safe. These medications are usually a lot less dangerous than other tranquilizers and sedative medications.
Overdoses of benzodiazepines are rarely lethal, although these pills can come with some side effects.
For instance, you might notice:
Drowsiness during the day;
Trouble concentrating or focusing;
Issues with balance and coordination;
Problems with your memory;
Inability to retain new information.
Alcohol can significantly increase the risk of dangerous side effects and intensify side effects like dizziness when taking benzodiazepines. Because of this, it’s recommended that you never take your sleep medication with alcohol.
Perhaps the biggest danger with benzodiazepines for sleep, is the role that they could play in sleep apnea. If you have an issue called obstructive sleep apnea, where the parts of your airways collapse or narrow during the night, making it harder to breathe, then you won’t be able to use benzodiazepines.
These medications can cause the muscles in your body to relax, creating an increased risk of closure in your throat.
What are non-benzodiazepines for sleep?
If you have sleep apnea and benzodiazepines aren’t a good choice for you, or you simply decide that you would rather avoid the side effects of these medications, you may consider non-benzodiazepines for sleep instead. These are newer medications that act on the same GABA area of the brain.
Non-benzodiazepines for sleep include medications like zolpidem (Ambien) and Lunesta (Eszopiclone). These tablets still shouldn’t be used as a long-term treatment to insomnia. However, they have fewer drawbacks to consider.
The biggest threats with non-benzodiazepines is that you may suffer some basic side effects, such as depression, dizziness, nausea, or headaches. There’s also a chance that with regular use, your body will become more accustomed to these medications.
This means that you won’t achieve the same results by taking a safe dose. Your insomnia could return.
Alternatives to benzodiazepines for sleep
So, are there alternatives to benzodiazepines besides non-benzodiazepines?
Yes, but it all depends on what you need.
Some doctors recommend using anti-depressants for the treatment of insomnia. This is often the case when your issues with mood and anxiety are keeping you awake. However, certain anti-depressant medications can make your situation worse, by increasing insomnia.
Additionally, your doctor could recommend over-the-counter medications, like allergy control pills that make you drowsy, or herbal supplements that include melatonin and valerian.
In most cases, the best alternatives to benzodiazepines for sleep are lifestyle and sleep habits changes.
Even if you do decide to use medication in the short-term, your doctor will often recommend making changes like:
Practicing relaxation techniques before bed: Meditation and other forms of relaxation can help you to get rid of the feelings of stress and discomfort that are more likely to keep you awake during the night. You can even find apps that will guide you through the process of gradually winding down to sleep.
Creating a consistent schedule: Following a routine where you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day will help to encourage a good sleeping pattern. You can also add other behaviour to your schedule, such as taking a hot bath before bed to help you relax.
Improving your sleep environment:Using black out blinds to get rid of excess light in your bedroom, and a white noise generator to remove unwanted sound is a great way to encourage sleep. It’s also a good idea to make sure that your bedroom is comfortable and cool when you’re going to bed.
Exercise: Regular exercise can significantly improve your chances of falling asleep properly each night. Exercising when you get up each morning and getting plenty of exposure to natural light will also help to set your circadian rhythm. This ensures that you’re more likely to fall asleep at the right time.
Cognitive behavioural therapy: Psychological treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy are excellent for getting to the problem of your sleep problems. You can also use therapy to come up with plans that will help you to avoid issues like sleep anxiety.
Benzodiazepines and sleep
Ultimately, like any medication for sleep, benzodiazepines aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution for your insomnia. Though your doctor or sleep expert may recommend these drugs as an initial way to overcome some of your sleep problems, you’ll also need to find a long-term solution too.
In the meantime, you can improve your chances of successful experience with benzodiazepines by:
Avoiding alcohol when you’re taking sedative drugs;
Making sure that you don’t take benzodiazepines for extended periods;
Starting on the lowest recommended dose;
Following other guidelines to improve your sleep hygiene;
Following the recommendations given by your doctor.
Remember, you should never try to self-treat with any medication, including benzodiazepines, no matter how bad your insomnia gets. For more advice on how to manage your sleeping problems, check out the articles here at Siestio.
If you need professional guidance, speak to your doctor.